Making the most of Industry 4.0 in manufacturing and engineering

Industry 4.0, otherwise known as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, is gradually changing the manufacturing and design engineering landscape as we know it. More than just a buzzword, Industry 4.0 is not only changing the way in which goods are produced, but the ways in which businesses operate too. From additive manufacturing to automation – the speed of change is increasing.

Technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) all fall under the Industry 4.0 umbrella. Indeed, a report from KPMG suggests that the component markets of Industry 4.0 will be worth a combined $4 trillion by 2020, highlighting just how much there is at stake.

To remain competitive in this increasingly-connected world, businesses are tasked with adapting to the latest technologies - particularly manufacturers and design engineers. To help alleviate the pressure, we’ve put together some top tips on how to keep pace with this change to make the most of Industry 4.0 over the coming years.

1. Focus on data analysis

With IoT becoming more and more prominent in the workplace, collecting and analysing vast amounts of data will form the backbone of future business. From enabling predictive maintenance in manufacturing to providing added value for clients in professional services, being data-driven will be key.

Businesses are also being trusted with larger amounts of data than ever before, which means they have to be able to use it in the right way and stop it from falling into the wrong hands.

Arguably the biggest opportunity will come from the creation of ‘smart factories’ that use data from connected systems to optimise efficiency and minimise downtime. For example, manufacturers will be able to predict when failures are likely to occur by analysing historical trends, as well as using the insights generated to shape future product development operations.

Ultimately, the more data that is analysed, the smarter the decisions. For businesses in all industries, prioritising data analysis and adopting a data-first mindset will therefore be essential to future success.

2. Stop operating in silos

For traditional businesses, one of the biggest challenges of today’s disruption is successfully adapting to a new way of working. Key to realising the potential of Industry 4.0 will be finding ways to connect different business units and obtain a complete view of operations.

This is where Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions can play a major role, connecting day-to-day activities across the entire company and providing essential insight into operations.

For manufacturers specifically, all areas of the manufacturing process – from Materials and Inventory to Production, Operations and Accounting – can be integrated into one database. This gives manufacturers greater insight into increasingly complex supply chains, helping them manage supplier partnership and stay on top of key factors such as demand forecasting and production downtime.

Breaking down silos also makes it easier for employees to collaborate, both with each other and with external partners, all of which highlights why businesses can simply no longer afford to work in silos. Those that do will quickly find themselves falling behind their more connected, collaborative competitors.

3. Remember, Industry 4.0 is a global phenomenon

As well as being a huge disruptor, Industry 4.0 is also proving to be a great leveller across multiple industries. Not only are technologies such as cloud computing giving small businesses access to the computing power traditionally reserved for their larger competitors, increasing connectivity is also taking globalisation to a whole new level.

As such, businesses are now able to reach a wider audience than ever before – if they are prepared to think big. Nothing is out of reach and companies should be encouraged to adopt an international mindset.

This applies to even the smallest start-ups. From accounting and payroll to payments and expenses, powerful software is now available to help start-ups take control of the administrative side of business, enabling them to focus on growth and expansion.

4. Prepare your workforce

It’s no secret that the growing prominence of automation, AI and robotics are forcing human employees to change how they work, and businesses must be prepared to support this development.

As a starting point, businesses should make sure their workforce has the required level of technical skills. This might involve running regular training programmes to help existing employees get up to speed with new technologies or recruiting people who already have the right expertise.

But the focus shouldn’t just be on technical skills. With software already starting to take over many of the more mundane, time-consuming tasks, ‘human’ skills such as creativity, critical thinking and communication will be key to the workplace of the future.

5. Recognise the importance of agility

My final piece of advice for those looking to take advantage of Industry 4.0 is to recognise the importance of agility and flexibility.

In order to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, being able to adapt to change has become more important than ever. As such, business culture must be geared towards productivity and agility, which can play an important role in improving the customer experience and driving revenue.

Although it may sound daunting, the good news is that there are many ways businesses can go about fostering an agile mindset, from experimenting with new technologies to focusing on customer needs and implementing a culture of collaboration.

There’s no time to wait. As the clock ticks, more progress in Industry 4.0 is being made. Design engineers, manufacturers and business leaders must embrace this innovation – and act now to make the most of what today’s connected world has to offer.